Atlas Shrugged: Part I Isn't Even a Real Movie
It struck me last Saturday at the Regal Meridian 16 that I was probably sitting in a roomful of assholes. We were all—all 18 of us, including me and the three snickering college kids looking for a so-bad-it's-good experience—waiting for Atlas Shrugged: Part I to begin, and because of how we decided to spend our afternoon, we were pretty much all guaranteed to be jerks. I'm a critic for The Stranger, so my bona fides are established right there, of course. The first one in the theater was the old lady in the American flag T-shirt who was pecking furiously at her Kindle. A parade of assholes followed: the goateed paunchy guy (10 bucks says he works in tech, 20 bucks says he works at Amazon) dragging his sulky girlfriend to the center of the auditorium; the six dour gray-haired men who each came in alone (one, bless his heart, rocking a pleather fanny pack) and frowned at the screen, waiting for the movie to start; the two sloppily dressed mouth breathers (literally; at quiet points during the movie, their gasps—fwhooo, fhwheee—filled the silence like a malfunctioning air-conditioning system) who apparently couldn't find any friends or family to accompany them; and so on. (I'm sure it goes without saying, but in case you have any doubt: We were all white.)
I'm not going to debate the points of objectivism anymore. Life's too short. If you think Ayn Rand is great, we can basically shake hands and part ways right there; we have nothing to offer each other as human beings. Rand offers a childish worldview, intended for people who don't want to think about the world like grown-ups because thinking like a grown-up is too difficult. Arguing with a libertarian is like arguing the logic of a Dr. Seuss book with a class full of 6-year-olds, only not at all cute. So here's all I'm going to say about the political perspective of the film: If you're a sociopath, and you really, really, really hate humanity, and you believe in an absolute good and an absolute evil against all the staggering amount of evidence to the contrary (that is to say, after living in the real world for however long your life has been), you'll probably agree with this movie's political philosophy. Also: You are an asshole.
The irony of Atlas Shrugged, Part I, though, is that it's a movie about how the people who make truly great things are laid low by the mediocrity of people who are jealous of their gifts, and it is an entirely mediocre movie. (Plot summary: A bunch of dicks walk around whining about how hard it is to be a dick. Two dicks ride a train and have an affair, because the guy's wife is a dick and can't understand how hard he works at being a dick. All their dick friends keep disappearing. The end. See you for part two, April 15, 2012!) Though the script praises exceptionalism, the script itself is unexceptional, making a monotonous hash from Rand's soap-operatic blather ("What happened to you, Francisco? Where is the man I used to love?" and "There is so much at stake. We have to make it"). The characters are supposed to be nearly superhuman in their skills and self-confidence, but the actors are incapable of pretending to be even believable human beings.
The ethos that Atlas Shrugged hammers into its audience is that something is either worth doing to the absolute best of your ability or not worth doing at all. Yet a large part of the film is made up of generic stock footage, the cinematographer is more interested in the cheap rental furniture than the human beings uncomfortably sitting on it, and the wardrobe department can't seem to tie a single necktie into a proper knot. The continuity editor apparently hasn't found the time to watch the film yet: Every character rides around in the same limousine, and entire scenes consist of people sitting around tables at alleged "dinners" where no food is served, saying good-night to each other over full, untouched glasses of wine.
To call Atlas Shrugged: Part I comically inept would imply that it had a sense of humor, or that it's an entertaining wreck of a film. It's not that; it's a barely watchable conglomeration of incomplete scenes about unformed characters, and it's boring as hell to watch. It's more tragically inept, a dyslexic love letter to the first third of a bad book. It doesn't even deserve a real review, because it's not a real movie; it's just a hacked-together fairy tale for assholes. In fact, it's exactly the movie that that roomful of assholes deserved.